What happens when two craft beer bloggers get married? Apparently, an Oktoberfest wedding!
We didn’t just choose Oktoberfest because it’s an excuse for an amazing party with comfort food, rollicking music, and good beer (though those things definitely contributed), but also because the very first Oktoberfest was a royal wedding. In 1810, Crown Prince Ludwig I of Bavaria married Princess Therese von Saxe Hildburghausen, with massive celebrations and horse races in Munich. The people enjoyed it so much, they kept it up year after year. We tried to imitate a classy Bavarian wedding vibe, but left out the horse races.
One of the ways we incorporated our love for local craft beer was by using growlers as our centrepieces. Along with German table numbers and votive candles, we just ordered loose seasonal flowers and filled the growlers. All 19 tables had different breweries that we had visited.
Our Oktoberfest theme showed up in a lot of places from the delicious schnitzel and spaetzle served a a main course, the apple strudel standing in for wedding cake, the live band in lederhosen and dirndls, the late night pretzels, and German phrases slipped here and there.
The bridesmaids wore “dirndls”, which is the traditional Bavarian outfits. These were custom-made for us.
The ceremony also had a taste of beer and Oktoberfest – literally. We did a modified version of the loving cup, or quaich (“quake”) ritual. An ancient friendship and love tradition with roots in multiple cultures, it became a common wedding ritual when King James VI of Scotland presented it to Anne of Denmark on their 1589 wedding day – another royal wedding! A quaich is actually a wide, two-handled mug, but we substituted a German stein we had bought in Germany. The ritual was three small sips each: to our love in the past, in the present, and in the future.
And of course, there was the beer! We did our own bar set-up so we could do our own beer choices. We figured out we wanted to work between Ontario craft and German classics, and aim for four varieties: a lager, a wheat, a darker, and a “quirkier”. After much debate, here’s what we ended up with:
Side Launch Mountain Lager – We got about half lager, and that worked, as there was none to take home the next day! We would have only gotten MORE beer, and less wine for a wedding like this
Erdinger Weissbier – It was more popular than we assumed, and our amounts were gone by the end of cocktail hour.
Brock Street Brewing Traditional Irish Red Ale – We actually won a keg from them, so we had some family make the trek to Whitby to pick it up, since we’re big fans of this dark and smoky red. The bar wasn’t as used to keg pouring, but got the hang of it after a while.
Collective Arts Sour Harvest Saison – Our choice of something a little different to bring basic beer drinkers out of their shells. We got our wish and quite a few people tried it, but we still had a decent amount to take home (not that we’re complaining)
Wondering where we got something? Here’s our vendor list:
This year seems like it’s going to be the year of the Hamilton brewery scene. There will be several new breweries adding to the robustness of the Hamilton beer scene, so here’s a sneak peek at what will be opening over the next few months.
Grain & Grit
PLANNED OPENING: September 2017
Joe and Lindsey Mrav, a craft beer loving couple (sound familiar?) bought an old auto place at 11 Ewen Rd, and they’re in the midst of gutting it to turn it into the Grain & Grit brewery. It’s out with the old and in with the new, from newly poured concrete to a shiny set of new brewing equipment.
The couple met their head brewer Alex Sporn, a recent arrival from Germany, via a touch of serendipity, and hit it off. Both Joe, an avid homebrewer and Alex, also a homebrewer with a wine-making background as well, will be brewing for Grain & Grit.
They’re in the midst of testing flavours with friends, family, contest winners, and the odd lucky beer blogging couple that gets invited by (e.g. us). The team plans to continously put out new beer and one-offs, not necessarily sticking to a list of standards. The starting lineup may change come September but here’s a sampling of what was around when we visited:
Pieschen Prohibition Pale Ale – one you’ll probably see, part of a “prohibition” series that references the fact that it does not actually contain the strongest flavoured ingredient – in this one, it tastes strongly of peaches but has no peach in it (it uses Galaxy hops instead); we also tried a Melon Prohibition version, same idea but honeydew!
Pineapple Rye PA – A juicy pale ale brewed with pineapple, bold flavour and light on the bitternes
SMASH Sour that avoided the overwhelming hoppiness of many SMASHs we’ve tried (that’s Single Malt And Single Hop), instead with a biscuity, licorice-y vibe with the Columbus hops, plus the sour, of course
Bob’s Brown Ale and Bob’s Little Sister – part of an interesting series of entirely different can conditioned beers
ESB – malty yet well-balanced
Grain & Grit won’t have an on-site kitchen, but they’ve got a decent-sized parking area where they plan to invite food trucks by. This little industrial corner of West Hamilton is soon to become a beer destination, with Fairweather Brewing (see bottom of this post) opening soon right around the corner.
OPENING: May 11, 2017 at 5pm
With MERIT Brewing‘s clean lines and room of communal tables, this brewpub will fit right into the James North scene. The industrial chic style, Instagram-friendly light bulb logo, exposed brick wall, and the gleam of the brewery equipment just behind the glass will jive with the Art Crawl crowds. The lure of ultra-locally made beer will bring in more.
The brewery is a project of Tej Sandhu (who beer-industry folks may know from Run TO Beer), head brewery Aaron Spinney (who previously brewed with Sawdust City), and chef Jesse Vallins (from Toronto’s Maple Leaf Tavern).
There is a brewpub area and a bottle shop area, which includes a premium growler filling station. The two standards, both in the bottle shop and at the bar, will be:
Chanan – Dry Hopped Saison with Orange Peel and Indian Coriander – slightly spicy with the coriander and quite dry, almost pale-ale-esque
Young Rival – IPA named after a Hamilton band you might recognize, not heavy on the hoppy bitterness, but with some light fruity flavours
We were able to attend for a pre-grand-opening, and some of the other beer they had on tap at the time were:
S’il vous plait (SVP) – French table beer with saison yeast pulling in at a very low 3.0ABV (hence the “table” part) – pretty unique in what we’ve seen in Ontario craft
Between Us – Gose – even for a gose this is very light. Softly tangy, lightly fruity, not much of a sourness, and just a hint of the characteristic gose-saltiness at the end
Tomorrows – Earl Grey Tripel – Dry tripel with the citrus-y taste of an Earl Grey.
Real Real – American Sour Saison, collaboration with Jen Nad from Dieu du Ciel – as the American versions of anything go – this goes to an extreme – in this case, a real sour. Mouth puckeringly sour, but with a red fruit tang. If you’re an ultra-sour lover, try this one
My Only – our top winner of the night, a Brett Hibiscus saison – the perfect dessert beer; fruity, tangy, and refreshing
Beyond beer, Merit is a proper brewpub, with the food that goes along with that. Matching the German beer hall style tables gone upper-scale, the menu is sausage heavy but gastropub gourmet. Such as a “butter chicken” sausage with mango & apple chutney and black pepper-lime yogurt in a naan, or pork sausage with fennel, chili, tomato jam, garlic aioli, and fresh oregano. Add this to the pork rinds, baked beans, pickles, and those crispy fries, and you have yourself some pretty sweet beer grub.
OPEN NOW as a beer bar/coffee shop; PROJECTED TO SERVE THEIR OWN BEER: August/September 2017
Located at 27 King William Street, Rust City Brewery got snarled up in some City zoning and bylaws and decided that instead of waiting until they could brew on-site, they’d open up as a beer bar and coffee shop right away. Currently that’s where they stand, but good news is on the horizon with the next couple weeks looking like the zoning issues may be solved. They expect to be serving their own brews around late August or early September, 2017.
Currently, there’s a solid tap and bottle list, where you’ll often see the Hamilton contract brewers (THB, Clifford) and some harder-to-find locally beers on tap (e.g. Napanee Brewing) and the popular Toronto bottles (e.g. Bellwoods, Halo, Burdock) in stock.
When they are able to do their own batches, it’ll be focused on British and Belgian styles. With a very small batch system, they’ll focus on flipping it a lot, with lots of experimentation, and a special love for sours and barrel aging. Plus, they plan for regular casks.
The space is simple, with an order-at-the-bar set-up that includes a pretzel list, and coffee shop dining (soups, sandwiches, salads, and baked goods), all created with a focus on organic food and local producers.
It’s also a tipping-free bar – the tips are built in to prices, staff are paid a living wage with benefits and profit sharing. It makes those pints a little pricier, but it’s not out of the realm of craft beer pricing – and we think it’s worth it.
PLANNED OPENING: Late May, 2017
Fairweather Brewing has moved in to a big space at 5 Ofield Rd in West Hamilton (right around the corner from the upcoming Grain & Grit from the top of this post – Hamilton’s “brewery district”?). It will end up with a pretty large scale brewing operation for a start-up, and has a great bar area.
The brewery is owned by business partners Brent, Ram, and Dan, with a lot of beer experience between the three of them, including homebrewing, the Niagara College Brewing program, working at Lakeport, and participating in brewing and brewpubs in the BC craft beer scene.
They’re hard at work brewing up a storm, and already working to bring a lot of styles to fruition. While we were there, we were able to try
Dry hopped saison – a bright and refreshing version of the style, with a slightly floral hop note and quite low noticeable bitterness
Grisette – this rustic Belgian style is a sessionable one at under 4.0% ABV, and slightly sweet on the mouth through the use of roasted oats
We explored their vats and talked beer plans, and they have a lot on the go. When they open, you might see an IPA, an APA, kettle sours, a roasty/malty porter, and a saison aged in cherries in oak. The team wants to be able to explore and play around with styles, so you can expect this will be a brewery consistently producing new and different varieties.
The space is clean and and crisp, with brick, bare bulbs, wood, and greenery setting off the look in a sort of West coast industrial chic vibe. With the gleaming wood tables and white-washed picnic tables in the long tasting room, it looks like ti will be a great place to hang out.
Honourable Mention: West Avenue Cider at Somerset Orchards
Opening: June 3, 2017
West Avenue is one of our favourite cideries, and they move into their orchards at 84 Concession 8 E out in Freelton (which, yes, is part of Hamilton!), as of June 3. We can’t wait to get the chance to pop by their tasting room.
We were enticed to head down to Niagara-on-the-Lake this past weekend for a Sour Tasting & Tour at The Exchange Brewery. Neither of us can resist a good sour, and this absolutely didn’t disappoint.
The Exchange Brewery is in a compact historical building right downtown in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Despite the size constraints, they packed a lot of space into the area, with two floors of service, brewing and some barreling on-site, and a very chic look that tied it all together.
Because it was The Exchange’s first anniversary, we were able to get a tour of the facilities. At first when the eager group piled into the very small working space behind the glass enclosure of the brew room, we worried we may had signed up for yet another lesson on the absolute basics of beer-making, like we’d seen on some other tours.
Fortunately, we needn’t have worried!
The tour felt very personal to the brewery itself. The set-up was unique, and the stories were less focused on an ephemeral “how beer is made”, and more about how this brewery chooses to make their beer. The operators had even purchase different sets of much of their apparatus for sours vs non-sours, which was something we hadn’t seen before.
But the most impressive part of it all was how efficiently they used such a small space. In a room where you could barely squeeze 20 people in, everything was tightly packed with perfectly organized hoses running the liquid up and down and back and forth.
During the talk by the head brewer, he talked about the brewery’s two focuses: hop-forward West coast ales and Belgian-style sours. We could definitely see those focuses in their beer list, especially in the sour selection. He mentioned also making a variety of styles, to please the large variety of people that come through the door – the balance of having a working brewery in a tourist-heavy city.
They had about 15 different beers on offer, including a couple on cask as a special anniversary weekend event. Some of our top hits were:
& Oud Bruin Barrel Aged Sour – Our winner of the night, a complex sour with a dark brown/red colour – sour, malty, with a sort of dried cherry taste. A bit of everything.
71 White IPA – An interesting mashup, with the coriander and orange peel of a witbier combined with the hoppy bitterness of an IPA, but without too much of either. This blend worked very well for us.
Black Saison – A very surprising beer. Sour, malty, even a bit of toasty oak at the end. Quite diverse in its taste profile, and unique among saisons.
∞ Belgian Stout – Medium-bodied, with a flavour reminiscent of those fancy cherry chocolates. Quite a pleasant cool-weather brew.
Flanders Red – Another complex, rich sour, with a light, slightly nutty flavour; stays quite true to its roots.
What’s with the numbers and symbols? The building was once used as a telephone exchange (hence the name – and the numbers!). It also works perfectly on the round trays with plastic ‘tokens’ they give out to mark their flights.
The Exchange has a short food menu with snacks and bar staples the can be made behind the bar (cheese trays, hummus, flavoured popcorn), but they also build partnerships with local food places on different nights – sushi, food trucks, pizza places. When we were there, British-fusion food truck Ello Gov’na was parked outside supplying the bar patrons with a delicious apricot cauliflower curry.
We went through our Untappd ratings for 2016 to find our top ten new-to-us beers for the year.
This is our combined list, and we do have different preferences, so it took some negotiation. We both love darks and sours (as evidenced by our list), though beyond that Josh’s tastes are more likely to go toward barrel-aged brews and high ABV offerings, while Jessica’s preferences run more toward the sweeter and fruiter flavours. Neither of us are particularly into hop-bombs, which is why they aren’t well represented here.
In no particular order
Home Sweet Home – 5 Paddles Brewing – This honey vanilla wheat ale is one of their standards, and it was a stand-out for us. Creamy and sweet caramel/honey taste, it reminded us of Werther’s candies. Very crisp for a wheat ale as well, despite the sweetness. Available regularly at the Whitby brewery.
Collective Project: Gose – Collective Arts Brewing– We did a whole post on Gose, and this is a perfect example of the style: tangy, slightly salty, and very refreshing. It was their summer seasonal, but is still available at the brewery as of this writing, and had also been available in some grocery stores.
Dry-Hopped Tripel – Cameron’s Brewing – We got lucky enough to get this seasonal at the brewery, which was sweet, fruity, and not at all syrupy as some high ABV offerings tend to be (this one sits at 7.5%). They told us they were aiming for it to be a “white wine of beer”, and we thought that label fits – it even has a light grape flavour.
Brooklyn Sorachi Ace – Brooklyn Brewery – Our one non-Ontario pick, because it’s just that good. Rated highly by both of us, this saison was rich, creamy, dry, and lightly hoppy. An all-around good beer. We found this one at the LCBO, and there are still some available at certain locations.
Purgatory – Innocente Brewing Company – Don’t expect a usual cream ale, as this black “cream ale” was something a little more intriguing. Very roasted yet at the same time very smooth, with deep milk chocolate tones and a light body. We had this possible one-off at the brewery, and it doesn’t look like it’s still in production – let’s hope we’re wrong!
Limberlost Farmhouse Ale – Sawdust City Brewing Co. – A tasty wild yeast farmhouse ale, tangy with a hint of sourness, like a lambic mixed with a saison. We’ve seen this one at a couple festivals, and we hope to see it appear again soon.
Harry Porter – Great Lakes Brewery – This is a not a new beer, but strangely, though we’d had several of the take-offs (for example, Harry Porter and the Cherry Hoarder), we’d never had the original until recently. And… yes. Here’s a delicious porter. Smooth, dark, drinkable, rich, and delicious.
Beer 101 Pilsner – Niagara College Teaching Brewery – The NCTB has an entire line of style essentials, but the pilsner is easily the best. Malty, interesting, more robust than the colour lets on, just a little hoppy and super drinkable.
Russian Imperial Stout – Oast House – Josh loves his Russian Imperial Stouts so this was a no-brainer addition to his list – however, even Jessica found it the most drinkable R.I.S. she’d ever had. As rich and malty as it should be with coffee on the nose and grape on the tongue, it was also so smooth for a Russian Imperial. This was a seasonal offering in-brewery last winter, so perhaps it will be returning soon.
Motley Cru (2016) – Bellwoods Brewery – Yes, we said this list wasn’t in order, but this was our unofficial top beer of the year. This two-year barrel-aged, funky & wild sour made with Gewurtztraminer grape juice was a big winner for both of us. Phenomenally well-balanced, blending the sweet and the sour, and bubbly on the tongue. We could definitely taste the Gewurztraminr.
Niagara College Teaching Brewery is attached to the Niagara College brewing program, which means you get two worlds of beer: the seasoned brew teachers, and the upcoming new brewers.
In a small building on the Niagara College campus, the brewery isn’t about atmosphere. It’s got the basics down for though: fridges full of product and a long line of taps. This is a place where you sample and buy beer. Enough said.
On the day we visited, the building was at capacity, as there was a festival on the grounds. Other days would generally be a lot quieter.
There’s not a lot to see from the inside the store. It’s a small tap room with a short bar top, minimal seating, and a few industrial grab-and-go fridges. However, What the brewery may lack in atmosphere, they certainly make up for with selection. They’ve got their “Beer 101” series featuring the faithfully recreated styles we all know, a “Brew Master” line featuring some carefully crafted brews, and one-offs made by the students. The pouring station has 16 taps, which we assume comes in handy around exam time.
Here’s a selection of some we tried:
Beer 101: Pilsner – Malty, just a little hoppy, and so drinkable. This was a winner for both of us. Don’t be fooled by the pale colour, this is more robust than you’d think to see it.
Brew Master Stout – Strong, rich stout, with a bit of a coffee flavour.
Cherry Pilsner – Also a Brew Master beer, it’s both malty and tart. Cherry flavour is subtle, so it still has the light, pilsner-y profile.
Sugar Parents – This one was a student Brew. A “big boozy Belgian” that was a one-off, and probably Jessica’s winner of the sampling day – fruity and interesting, and couldn’t quite tell it was 10% ABV
NCTB is a simple place. There is some merch to check out and purchase, but the real interesting part is the beer fridges. It’s the kind of place that always carries one-offs, so we grabbed as many as we could so we could sample these exclusive brews.